Ultimate food safety guide

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When you sit down to that delicious meal at a restaurant, or to one that you have prepared yourself, it can be easy to forget all the processes and considerations that go into making that one meal. This includes ensuring safety and hygiene in preparing, cooking and storing food. For example, if the food isn’t stored correctly, the bacteria in it can multiply, increasing the risk of food poisoning, even before you start cooking it.

Here's a rundown of all these food safety components that go into preparing a meal and beyond, so you can ensure a safe (and delicious) experience every time.

Hygiene and safety during food preparation, cooking and storage

Preparing a meal requires safely handling, preparing and storing food to reduce the risk of illness.

Nutrition Australia provides a very helpful breakdown of the three key principles of food safety at home: Keeping things clean, cooking food thoroughly, and safe storage

Keeping clean

Cleaning your hands, kitchen tools, equipment, and utensils and washing fruits and vegetables before eating and cooking. It’s important to not only wash but dry your hands and equipment in between preparing different foods, advises Health Direct.

They also advise the points you should wash and dry your hands:

  • Before food preparation
  • After touching raw meat, eggs or vegetables with soil on them
  • After using the toilet, blowing your nose, touching any sores or cuts, or after touching an animal.

Drying hands is also important, as bacteria can transfer in the moisture of wet hands.

You shouldn’t be touching food or cooking if you’re sick with an infection, diarrhoea or vomiting or for at least 48 hours after symptoms disappear. You also need to be extra careful if you're preparing food for children, the elderly, or pregnant women.

Cross-contamination can occur when bacteria get transferred from one place to another, Health Direct states. Bacteria can for example transfer from raw food to cooked food. Bacteria can also be transferred by hands or cooking equipment.  Always prepare raw and cooked food separately. Keep raw meats separate from vegetables, for example by using a different chopping board for each.

Cooking throroughly

Ensure food is cooked to the required temperature. Always cook meats all the way through, until the juices run clear and no pink colour remains. Ensure the food is steaming hot until you serve it to reduce the risk of food poisoning. One common example is salmonella, a dangerous bacteria found in raw eggs and raw meat. If not cooked properly, then the bacteria are not killed. If this food is then consumed, it can cause food poisoning.

Safe storage

Health Direct provides the following advice regarding safe storage temperatures for food in the home:

  • Keep cold food in the fridge at less than 5 degrees celsius to prevent the growth of bacteria that can cause food poisoning.
  • Store frozen food at -15 degrees celsius or colder.
  • Store hot food greater than 60 degrees Celsius. Food poisoning bacteria grow and multiply fastest in the temperature danger zone between 5 and 60 degrees Celsius. Bacteria can’t grow easily at temperatures outside of this zone. Try not to leave food between this temperature for more than two hours.
  • Throw out food left in the temperature danger zone for more than four hours. This is an important one to remember if you ever experience a blackout.

It's also important to keep all foods sealed to prevent pests from getting in.

Additionally, make sure you use clean food storage containers that are good quality and in good condition. Ensure the lids are tight fitting or use foil or plastic film to cover food bowls to minimise potential contamination. If you use reusable grocery bags, be sure to clean them regularly too.

When storing cooked food, wait until hot food has cooled before placing it in the fridge. Place hot food into separate, smaller portions to help cool the food as quickly as possible, Better Health advises. Cover and then place in the fridge or freezer.

Be sure to store raw and cooked foods separately in covered containers, with raw meats on the shelf below cooked foods to prevent contamination from raw meat juices above. In a similar vein, do not put cooked food back on the same plate that any raw meat was sitting on.

When transporting cold or hot foods, try to buy cold foods towards the end of your shopping trip and take an insulated cooler bag with you to store and keep frozen foods cold. Keep hot and cold foods separate when transporting them home, and try to get home as soon as you can place these items in the fridge or freezer immediately.

Reheating and defrosting food

The safest way to defrost food is in the fridge or microwave, so avoid the kitchen bench.

Plus, once frozen food has been thawed, don't refreeze it, as according to Better Health, it’s likely to have higher levels of food poisoning bacteria. Raw food should be cooked and never refrozen once thawed.

Finally, as much as you may want those leftovers, Nutrition Australia advises discarding cooked leftovers after four days.

Tracey Cheung
Written by
Tracey Cheung

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